Picks & Ponderings this week goes around the corner to Hawthorne Race Course for Paul Mazur's look at the first stakes of the Chicago season and around the world to Meydan for Nicolle Neulist's dissection of Dubai World Cup Day. It also looks at major Kentucky Derby preps from two ovals - this piece's investigation of the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks as well as Nicolle analyzing the Florida Derby and Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Despite the plethora of stakes on the Fair Grounds program (including an all graded stakes pick four that includes the races covered in this piece), this piece centers only on the three-year-olds. But five weeks from now are the biggest races for three-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. And the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks are the final preps from New Orleans. The Louisiana Derby serves as the culmination of the meet and the Saturday program at the New Orleans oval.
Horse Racing Radio Network will stream the audio for these races, as well as nine other stakes races at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds, between 4:00pm EDT and 7:00 EDT. That stream will be broadcast on Sirius 93, XM 208, and the Horse Racing Radio Network website.
Morning line odds for the Fair Grounds Oaks were not available at original publish time. All races in this space are scheduled for Saturday March 28.
Updated on March 26th to include morning lines for all races.
Fair Grounds -- Race 9 -- G2 Fair Grounds Oaks -- One and one-sixteenth miles on dirt -- post time 4:25 pm CT
Created in 1966 and given a grade in 1982, the Fair Grounds Oaks has been run every spring - aside from 2006 when Fair Grounds was recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Grade Two with a $400,000 purse, it's a Kentucky Oaks prep that offers a 100-40-20-10 dispersal of points to the top four finishers. Given that the fifty point races act as de facto qualifiers, this race offers such perks to the top finishers. Before 2010, the race was in early March and two preps away, but in that year was moved to five weeks out and a final prep to the big races in Kentucky in early May. The Fair Grounds Oaks in recent years has been a stellar pipeline of Kentucky Oaks success, with Untapable (2014) turning the Fair Grounds Oaks-Kentucky Oaks double. Before her in the last decade came Believe You Can (2010), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Proud Spell (2008), Summerly (2005). Further in the past are Ashado (2004), Silverbulletday (1999), Blushing K. D. (1997) and Tiffany Lass (1986) as sophomore fillies that have parlayed a Fair Grounds Oaks win into a win on the First Friday in May.
Rachel Alexandra posts a facile victory in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.
After four straight races with an outside post position, maybe getting the one post and the rail is what FOREVER UNBRLIDED needs to show her best. Winner three back in a maiden race, she's never been out of the money in four career outs. Last seen chasing I'M A CHATTERBOX in the Rachel Alexandra and Silverbulletday, she might get the jump from a cozy inside post and has pieced together ascending figures. While she's eligible for a first-level allowance, she has turned in two stakes placings (locally against I'M A CHATTERBOX). Shows two maintenance works leading up to the Fair Grounds Oaks. In a race lacking a true one-way speed perhaps this closer gets a pace more to her liking and set a steady pace on the front end - or rally from an inside-outside position. This space looks at I'M A CHATTERBOX as a defensive use. Sure, she went "from flag fall to that's all" in the Silverbulletday. And she closed to annex the local prep. And she's beaten these before. But I'M A CHATTERBOX got a faster pace to close and she got the lead in the Silverbulletday that no one wanted. Maybe she gets it again in the Fair Grounds Oaks. But it's possible trainer Larry Jones pulls back on her - her Rachel Alexandra win is enough to get her into the Derby and she doesn't need to be ratcheted to her best. At Fair Grounds, the training ranks have seen former Mike Maker assistant Joe Sharp get on a meet-long tear. TACHIELLO comes from his shedrow. She's hit the board in two starts going two turns on grass and three back won a short-stretch mile distance from off the pace - not the easiest thing to do. Line out the troubled trips two back and three back. By Colonel John out of Alphabet Soup mare, going beyond a mile should not be an issue. A dependable closer at slow paces, as per two back on the weeds, perhaps she can make her closing rally without needing the front runners to get into a duel on the front end.
#1 FOREVER UNBRIDLED (3/1)
#6 I'M A CHATTERBOX (4/5)
#8 TACHIELLO (12/1)
Longshot: If a daughter of Colonel John would appreciate a two-turn race, why not use it? TACHIELLO was discussed above, but #3 JUGNI (20/1) is a daughter of Colonel John and has the added wrinkle of trying something new. If you're evaluating established form, that means she's a toss. If you're playing projections, here's a runner that will like the extended distance and two turns. And in terms of pace, she could be the front end speed and, unlike I'M A CHATTERBOX, much better suited to carrying the speed beyond a mile and seventy. Winner last time out, she had horrendous trips two back and three back that mucked up her form and made her a 12-1 winner of a first-level allowance. Such allowance form might be disregarded in this Grade Two, and JUGNI's holes in the resume mean a square price. The meet's leading rider, James Graham, climbs aboard.
Fair Grounds -- Race 11 -- G2 Louisiana Derby -- One and one-eighth miles on dirt -- post time 5:24 pm CT
Created in 1894 and given a grade in 1973, the Louisiana Derby has been and is a March fixture. A Grade Two with a $1,000,000 purse, it's a Kentucky Derby prep that offers a 100-40-20-10 dispersal of points to the top four finishers. Given that the fifty point races act as de facto qualifiers, this race offers such perks to the top finishers. Before 2010, the race was in early March and two preps away, but in that year was moved to five weeks out and a final prep to the big races in Kentucky in early May. Only two horses, Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996) have turned the Louisiana Derby-Kentucky Derby double. However, the roll call of winners includes Risen Star (1988), namesake of this race's February prep and the winner of the 1988 Preakness and Belmont. In its few years as a five-week-out prep, the best showing in the Derby comes from Revolutionary (2013), who won this race and was third in the Kentucky Derby.
Profile from Blood-Horse on Grindstone, the last horse to win both the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Often times, videos like the one above are used to show a past highlight of this race. This piece could have used the tape of the 2015 Risen Star Stakes as a segue. That's because this space figures this race to project the same way. The 1-2-3-4 players from the Risen Star are all back for another go-round and attempt at Derby qualification. As in the Risen Star, INTERNATIONAL STAR has drawn outside and there's speed at the rail - this time from new face STANFORD but old face ST. JOE BAY could be on the engine too. The pace projects honest, the ability to get nine or ten furlongs remains, and INTERNATIONAL STAR should pull off a sweep of the New Orleans prep races. The Maker/Ramsey owner/trainer combination bring this one third off the layoff. Whether going the overland route in the Lecomte or the rail rally in the Risen Star, he looks the part of a horse who - should he hold together - be a contender in five weeks. The wildcards this time around are the distance and the new face, MR. Z. But as INTERNATIONAL STAR is a son of Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, ten furlongs should not be an issue. And MR. Z, while a good new face, seems to find a horse that's better than him - whether it be Far Right or Dortmund or Carpe Diem. He'll find that with the one sporting Ramsey colors. MR. Z has collected his Derby points a few at a time. Still eligible for an a-other-than allowance, he's done the typical Lucas training program: racing is good, more racing is better. He's also tangled with the big names and hasn't won. But he's collected checks and kept himself around long enough. While he could get ten furlongs like fellow Malibu Moon progeny Orb, this space feels this one will be at home on the B-Derby circuit of Iowa, Indiana, and West Virginia. Still, Lukas got him away from Oaklawn and MR. Z does try blinkers-off in this spot, perhaps an attempt to regain some luster. The presence of the speed from STANFORD and ST. JOE BAY sets the race up perhaps for a closer. A case could be made for WAR STORY - who was second in the Risen Star. But the added distance plays right into the hands of KEEN ICE. The Curlin-Smart Strike sire line (with a nod to the passing of Smart Strike) is a plus for ten furlongs and he retains James Graham to ride, having a bang-up meet with the day-to-day stock and also a solid rider of closers. He will need the pace to get cooking on the front end, but if there's smoke up there he should be able to fire. Ran a deceptively good race to close out his two-year-old year and perhaps hated the carousel-esque Gulfstream dirt.
#10 INTERNATIONAL STAR (3/1)
#2 MR. Z (4/1)
#6 KEEN ICE (5/1)
Longshot: Each of two local preps into this race featured contested paces, honest fractions, and Ken Ramsey colors winning. If it goes the same way INTERNATIONAL STAR will benefit, but there's a possibility the speed outthinks each other and plays chicken. #8 ST. JOE BAY (10/1) was fourth in the Risen Star at nearly 30-1 and he'll probaly be near that when the gate springs open. While it's possible STANFORD is the inside speed, ST. JOE BAY projects the speed to hang around the longest. Rider switch to Albarado here might be a downgrade, but STANFORD also brings in the Gulfstream form that sometimes doesn't travel well. Here we've got the speed getting the home cooking.
All videos courtesy of Youtube.
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